Students involved in the District of Columbia’s Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competition have garnered high acclaim by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who wrote recently about their achievements on his official blog.

According to LaHood, who also praised members of his staff and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for giving up their evenings and weekends to mentor the talented and aspiring youth, Phelps Robotics Team 2912 placed third in last month’s D.C. regional competition. They designed, built and demonstrated their own robot in a process which includes several areas of discipline and calls for logical thinking and organizational skills.

FIRST programs have been established in school districts across the country.

Noting that FIRST was founded by renowned inventor Dean Kamen, LaHood went on to explain in his blog that the latter’s mission “is to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who traveled to Phelps for the awards ceremony, referred to its robotics team as “builders and thinkers.” In comments that focused on their potential contributions to science and technology, Strickland described them as real stars.

“As I look at all of you, I’m wondering which one of you will be working an underwater robot to successfully cap a gushing oil well,” Strickland said. “Or which one of you will help save the lives of troops with your work. Or which one of you will go on to design the next generation Mustang.”

The team, comprised exclusively of underclassmen, participated in a contest that involved more than 50 teams from 11 states. In addition, 2010 marked the second year that Phelps had fielded a robotics team.

Phelps’ robotics coordinator Olatundun Teyibo said the staff was extremely proud of the team’s hard work. “Even though they came in third place, it was still the highest ranking in D.C.’s competition history,” Teyibo told the AFRO. “The school just reopened two years ago and the unique thing about these students is that they were only freshmen and sophomores – no upperclassmen at all.”

Teyibo added that the school’s principal, who had experience with a highly successful FIRST program in New York, was also to be lauded for his push to establish a robotics team.

“He came in an initiated our program within two months,” Teyibo said.

Over the past few years, high school robotics programs have been on the rise, and late last year, President Barack Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign in an effort to strengthen competency not only in science, technology but in engineering and mathematics as well.